HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Hall of Fame and champion jockey John Velazquez says he’s returning to his “second home.”

Velazquez, who spent the past two winters riding primarily in California, will return to South Florida to ride at Gulfstream Park’s Championship Meet and join one of the world’s most competitive and talented riding colonies.

The Championship Meet, which begins Friday, will not only be playing host to Velazquez but Irad Ortiz Jr., leading jockey at the Championship Meet four of the past five years, five-time leading rider Javier Castellano, three-time leading rider Luis Saez, Tyler Gaffalione, Paco Lopez, and several newcomers including Sean Levey and Oisin Murphy from Europe, Vincent Cheminaud, and Chris Emigh. Popular Joe Bravo is also returning after spending several of the past winters in California.

Velazquez, leading rider during the Championship Meet twice, says returning to South Florida is also a return to a “normal routine.”

“California, obviously, was a different opportunity,” Velazquez said. “The experience was something different. I enjoyed it a lot. I was given a lot of opportunity because guys from the East who go West don’t always get the opportunities I did. It was a good experience, and the people were very good to me, but Gulfstream is my second home after New York.”

Velazquez will begin riding the weekend of Dec. 8. Defending riding champ Irad Ortiz Jr. will begin riding Dec. 6. Jose Ortiz, who will be honored with a bobblehead in his likeness during the Championship Meet, will begin riding Friday.

Sean Levey arrives from the United Kingdom and will ride December through February.

Levey was born in Swaziland, moved to Ireland as a teenager, and apprenticed for approximately six years at Aidan O’Brien’s before going to England in 2011.

Levey won his first Group 1 in the 2018 1000 Guineas at Newmarket aboard Billesdon Brook. Levey won two more Group 1 events in 2019 aboard Billesdon Brook in the Sun Chariot Stakes and the Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot on King of Change. In 2022 he won his first Group 1 in France with Aristria in the Prix Jean Romanet at Deauville.

Murphy, a three-time champion in the United Kingdom, will also ride at Gulfstream. He is scheduled to ride from late December through January.

Cheminaud first came to the U.S. in 2015 to ride Flintshire, whom he guided to victory in the Grade 1 Sword Dancer at Saratoga. He returned in 2018 to ride Victorine, who finished fourth in the Grade 2 Sands Point at Belmont. The 29-year-old French Derby (G1)-winning jockey ventured to Kentucky to ride full time in 2021, winning 41 races. He has won 29 races from 206 mounts this year.

“I ride a lot for Christophe Clement and Shug McGaughey, so I decided to come here,” Cheminaud said.

Chris Emigh is well known in the Midwest, where he’s ridden the past year in Kentucky, Illinois and Indiana and has won riding titles at Arlington, Hawthorne and Delta Downs.

Riding the Championship Meet has “been on my bucket list for a while but I never got the chance,” Emigh, a winner of nearly 4,400 races, said.

Return to Nov. 29 issue of Wire to Wire